ABOUT half of the 14
million Iraqis who were eligible to vote in the provincial
elections last month exercised their democratic right, despite a
sharp rise in sectarian violence in the days leading up to polling.
Voting day itself passed off relatively peacefully. The results
have yet to be declared, nearly two weeks after voting.
Although the sectarian
violence largely involved attacks by Sunni armed groups - members
of al-Qaeda or supporters of the former Ba'ath regime - on Shia
targets, the tension has affected the population at large.
Elections in two Sunni
provinces in central and western Iraq, where weeks of
demonstrations against the Shia-led government have taken place,
were postponed. The government said that security there could not
be guaranteed to allow a free vote. But the Sunnis themselves
interpreted the postponement of the poll as a further indication of
their community's marginalisation at the hands of the Shia
authorities in Baghdad.
On Tuesday of last week,
about 30 people were killed in clashes between security forces and
Sunni protesters at an anti-government protest camp near Kirkuk, in
The Chaplain of St
George's, Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, returned to Iraq two weeks
ago, on the eve of polling. In just one incident in the capital on
the same day, 27 Iraqis were killed by a bomb detonated in a café
fre-quented mostly by young people. At least 100 people had been
killed across the country in the preceding week.
Canon White said that he
had decided to go back "because things were terrible. But what I
found is worse than I could have ever imagined. We cannot move,
even with my police and army security." For the first time, he
said, St George's was being forced to cancel a service. "Today is
the worst war-zone I have ever seen."
Canon White believes that
the intense violence that has accompanied the election campaign
calls into question the value of democracy in Iraq. "It is fine for
people to say we are going to bring democracy to the Middle East.
We don't want it. It does not work here; it just causes massive
death and destruction."
The provincial elections
were the first since United States forces withdrew from Iraq at the
end of 2011. While the authorities will take comfort from the fact
that voting itself went off without major incident, no fewer than
14 candidates were killed during campaigning, and many others were
intimidated and withdrew.
Despite the dangers
surrounding the elections, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon and
Archbishop of Baghdad, the Most Revd Louis Raphael Sako, had urged
members of the dwindling Christian community in Iraq to vote. He
told Vatican Radio that Christians should "vote for people who can
do something for them, and work for their rights and
Archbishop Sako said that he believed that the plight of Iraqi
Christians had improved slightly, because, in general, they were no
longer the targets of the sectarian violence. There were widespread
bombings in Iraq, "but nothing against Christians as it was before
that. Christians can have their jobs and work. But the problem is
the future. There is no real stabil- ity; so all Iraqis, not just
Christians, are a little bit worried about the future."